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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGHTINGALE
at the Clurman Theatre

NO ESCAPE
By ANDY BUCK

  Mary Bacon as Alma Winemiller/PH: Stephen Kunken

In the pantheon of Tennessee William's great female characters, three were considered by the playwright to be facets of the same theme. Laura Wingfield is the still-innocent girl of this trio Blanche DuBois the ruined, fallen woman. And situated between these two is Alma Winemiller, the heroine of both Summer and Smoke and Williams's efficient reworking of that 1947 classic, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale.

In the program for The Actors Company Theatre's current revival of Eccentricities, Williams is quoted as saying that these three characters represent the delicate, haunted girl, the oversensitive misfit in a world that spins with blind fury." More than any other character, Williams identified with Alma. And his reworking of the earlier play not only scales back the melodrama and some, though not all, of the overwrought symbolism. It also presents a more sympathetic and intellectually sharper Alma. It's a fine work, which makes it all that more remarkable that no one has presented a major production of it in New York since its 1976 premiere. The Actors Company Theatre makes a strong case for its revival.

The current cast, directed by Jenn Thompson, is solid, with standout performances from Larry Keith as Alma's long-suffering father and the brilliant Nora Chester as the mother whose mental illness is such an embarrassment to the family. Todd Gearhart infuses John, the man whom Alma adores, with layers of fire and passion underneath a cool exterior, and Darrie Lawrence offers a memorable turn as John's indomitable mother. Many of the minor roles are also skillfully portrayed, particularly Cynthia Darlow's performance as Mrs. Bassett, the most outspoken of Alma's circle of eccentrics. Darlow is both hilarious and endearing for the simple reason that she doesn't play eccentric.

The same can't quite be said about Mary Bacon's Alma. Bacon brings out all of Alma's rich emotional life. But she takes too literally the other characters' complaints about Alma's affectations that make her seem peculiar to people, in the words of Rev. Winemiller. Bacon's portrayal is so farcical that the wild gestures and vocal quirks become hers rather than Alma's. She doesn't just gild the lily, as the father says. At times Bacon has it virtually bronzed. Still, it's a fiery performance that has all the necessary elements of comedy and pathos it only needed to be scaled back by the director to reach a more believable balance.

Bill Clarke's set is minimalist and effective. Instead of the clunkily conceived angel statue at the center of many productions of this play (and of its predecessor, Summer and Smoke), Clarke depicts the statue in a soaring backdrop design that is alternatively overpowering and receding in the mist, depending on how Lucrecia Briceno's lighting design hits it at given moments. Meanwhile, hovering over one side of the stage is a haunting structure of wooden ruins, presumably the remains of an odd novelty museum that burned down in New Orleans years ago, taking with it the life of Alma's aunt and, because of the scandal surrounding the fire, any chance of respectability for Alma's family in their small, gossip-ridden town.

 


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